Construction delays are just part of the mix, when you’re trying to build something big. For TechNexus, now in the process of finishing its new 50-thousand square foot incubator in the Civic Opera Building, it just means waiting a little longer.
The incubator, which will occupy an entire floor at the historic location at 20 North Wacker Drive, moved just two-and-a-half blocks north of its previous site. Construction of the new space began in late June when resident businesses at TechNexus moved their enterprises into temporary offices on the 13th floor. One floor below, builders and electricians continue the work on the new expansion of what is historically Chicago’s first tech incubator.
We took a tour with TechNexus founders and managing directors, Terry Howerton and Fred Hoch, who told us that the plan was to create a modern space that combines traditional elements from the landmark building with hi-tech features. So, along with refurbishment of the original wooden floors, small cameras would be installed throughout the space.
“We’ve designed ‘wormholes’ all over the floor, HD video conference, the ability to walk up to a screen, always on, and have a conversation with someone that’s on the other end of that wormhole,” says Howerton. “Those wormholes signify that this is not just a place to hang out and meet the people here, but that we’re actually part of a much larger innovation system that you can connect with, whether they’re sitting at the University of Illinois with a group of students or professors, or they’re at 1200 other incubators that we’ve partnered with around the country, or at a corporation that we’ve engaged into the ecosystem.”
There will also be a state-of-the-art broadcast studio, a training and conference room for 300 people, and a 15th floor rooftop deck overlooking the Chicago River. Members will have access to the building’s fitness center. Elements borrowed from the previous space include offices with doors, and walls made of glass, which can be added, or removed, as a company shrinks and grows.
“[Our] companies wanted certain things and, some things, they didn’t,” says Hoch. “They liked to have an open collaboration space, but they also wanted to have their own space. We learned, as an organization, as a facility, [that] we attracted a specific set of people.”
That set includes more established companies led by serial entrepreneurs. When TechNexus first opened, in November 2006, visitors to the incubator numbered about 500 a month. This year, at the previous location, they were logging about three-thousand visitors within the same timeframe. They’ve signed a lease for at least ten years. In November, when the new TechNexus goes into full swing, in a space twice the size of the previous one, foot traffic is expected to substantially grow. Howerton says it all helps to feed the city’s flourishing technology ecosystem.
“It’s really leading the way in the reimagination of the civic opera building, how a million square feet of this historic building will be occupied by tech companies, growing, innovative companies,” he says. “The view, and partnership, with the ownership of this building is to see how this building can evolve and, really, even [how] this whole neighborhood, can evolve to be even more welcoming to these types of tech companies.” ❒